Out in the wide hall, in the T intersection, there was a shabby door on the straight wall. They tried it, and it almost fell off in their hands. Through it, a narrow hall went into the rock and then turned to the left.
The hall was very dark, but they couldn’t help notice the painted walls. Tom cast a bulb of pale light out, and they could easily see the decorations from floor to ceiling.
“It’s like we’re back in the Egypt exhibit,” said Angelica.
“Except this is—this was done by Indians,” said Tom. “Look! They did a really good job, but that’s Indian stuff, that is.” They looked where he pointed, where the Pharaoh and his court, each with his or her special fancy headdress, sailed a Nile boat among hieroglyphic reeds, arms, half-circles, made-up eyes and crouching figures. But there were petroglyphs all around them. The boat was marked with a Hopi flutist. Fish and stags and shamans that might have been carven on the shores of Gitchee Goomee looked down from a wide golden band just above head level. Beside the Pharaoh were a black babe in an Afro, a pair of shades and a bikini, and a native fellow that looked disturbingly like the one who stood watch on Birch Street.
“Come on, guys,” said Daphne. “Arn, you okay?”
“She’s right, though,” said Angelica. “Let’s go see what we see. Unless anyone wants to go back to the wide hall?”
“Nah,” said Arnulf. “Let’s see Egypt.”
So they proceeded, and after a hundred feet or so the hall turned left again. The decor became grander, with gold and silver paints, and then it opened out into a square room.
In the middle of the room, a slightly larger than life Ramesses II statue, not gilt but painted to look as if a particularly handsome version of him stood motionless here, his left hand outstretched. Behind him, a lovely hall led out and then ended in a lovely wall.
“He looks like he wants something,” said Angelica.
“I bet I know what,” said Daphne, walking up to the statue. She held her own left hand back and to the side. “Gems?”
Arnulf put the sapphire in her hand, and Ange put the ruby next to it. Daphne pulled the emerald out of her right pocket and put it with the others in her left hand. She stepped up and reached across her body to put them, all together, in the Pharaoh’s left hand. “For you,” she told him.
His expression did not change. His left hand closed and retracted, and remained by his side, bent at the elbow, the three gems held solidly in his gilded fingers. Then his right arm came up from beside his body, as if it had just fished something out of his pocket. What it was, when he held his right hand out in front of Daphne, was a piece of crystal perhaps four inches long in the shape of a serpent. The crystal seemed to be clear. The serpent had ears, or horns.
“It’s the Egyptian letter F,” said Tom.
“It was what left that shadow on that felt display cushion upstairs,” said Angelica. She got out the cylinder.
“I’ll tell you what it is,” said Daphne in a whisper. “It’s a segment.”
They all looked at Angelica, who was squinting at the crystal through the cylinder. “Well,” she said, “through this, it’s got glows and sparkles and, yeah, flashing arrows pointing at it. So yeah, that seems like what you’d expect from a—!”
“Hey, the gold door opened,” said Cloudius. “Back of the room.”
“Why don’t we just go back the way we came?” asked Arnulf.
“Because someone’s coming along the Egypt hall?” replied Tom.
“Someone’s coming along the Egypt hall,” said Arnulf. “I’ll give you two guesses who. Let’s get moving.”
The golden door opened into a small room, and from that another door of gold opened at a touch into a larger room which was also the far terminus of the wide hall. The door opened into one corner of the room, while the wide hall entered the middle of the wall a little to the left. Straight ahead of the wide hall entrance was an enormous altar of black rock, twenty feet on a side and five feet tall. The ceiling was high enough that the horrid black statue on the altar could stand almost straight up and not come close to hitting its head.
Daphne and Cloudius, in front, did not act surprised when the thing turned its head to look blackly at them. Tom’s wand light flew in over their heads and illuminated the room, but the altar figure was where photons went to die. At its feet was a long, mean-looking black sword. The creature seemed to regard this as an obstacle rather than an asset.
“A Black Guardian,” Arnulf muttered, shutting the door behind them.
“How many hit points does it have?” muttered Cloud.
“I’m thinking, a lot,” said Tom.
With a peculiar sort of silent yowl, the thing came down off the altar and was upon them. But Daphne and Cloudius seemed less than frightened. They whacked it with their magic swords, chipping a bit here and a bit there, while the others tried to work out what to do.
“That black sword,” Tom shouted. “Grab it!”
“I can’t get through,” said Angelica. “Arn!”
But just at that moment, the guardian stepped in between Daphne and Cloud, kicking the latter aside. Cloud slid across the floor and came to rest by banging his head on the base of the altar. He jumped up and looked around: his own sword lay ten feet away. He got a big grin on his face. His hand closed on the hilt of the black sword.
But the effect was not immediately copacetic. The sword seemed intent on flying from his hand, and Cloudius, both hands on the hilt and hand guard now, was not to be denied a nice magical weapon. They danced about, while the guardian battered Daphne’s ripostes as if it was trying to hammer a tent stake into hard ground. Tom stepped in, his onyx spear point out: after a moment’s thought, he turned it downward and started in chipping at the thing’s big black toes.
It didn’t like that. It was hopping now, hopping mad one might say, trying to kick or stomp Tom while using its huge stony fists to beat on Daphne. They were at least holding their own. Arn had his wand out, and Angelica had her long knife, but they both knew those weapons would get them no more than a good laugh.
Then the thing whipped around. There was Cloudius, grinning. He and the black sword had come to some sort of compromise. He raised the sword and the Black Guardian, towering over them, managed to cower: a sort of tower of cower, Tom couldn’t help thinking. That was just before he drove his spear point up into its stone belly; Daphne’s sword was near, coming in from the left, and just above both the tip of a black blade came through.
“Back!” cried Arnulf. “It’s gonna blow!”
But as they stood there, the Black Guardian chose instead to melt, very quickly, into a sort of black wax that pooled in the middle of the floor and flooded down the drain, whose black steel glowed briefly with mystical letters: Neenah Foundry, Neenah Wisconsin.
The five advanced into the room. “Here, Arnulf,” said Cloudius, handing the black sword over. “I can’t switch from my uncle’s sword, obviously.”
“We’ll take that,” came the voice of Josh Hubble from the wide hall. “And the other thing,” added Hardy Vyner’s voice from the door to the room with the statue.
The Friends of Professor MacMorris had come from two directions, in a pincer movement, and now they pinced. But they were outnumbered even worse than they thought. There were four of them: Hardy, who squared off against Arnulf; Josh, who tried to match up against Daphne; Emma Curie, who was up against “Killer” Cloudius, and Rachel Rabat, who smirked at Angelica and threw a magic punch in the gut of Emma Curie.
Two seconds later, Emma, distracted, failed to block Cloudius’s counterpunch and went down hard. Arn quickly overwhelmed Hardy Vyner, who fell backward, her magic power drained away, and disappeared into thin air before she hit the ground.
“Capture,” cried Daphne as she held off Hubble and began beating the galaxy out of him. The next second, Angelica and Tom threw their power into Daphne’s, and the triad that resulted zapped him unconscious. No jump out for him.
Then the five, plus Rachel, were looking around at nothing, just a dusty old altar room. Josh Hubble and Emma Curie lay on their backs, unconscious and definitely not smiling.
“Ransack ‘em,” said Daphne. “Never know when their puppet master is gonna pull on those strings and snap them back.”
“Rachel, hey,” said Angelica. They stood looking at each other, then suddenly hugged. “I think I’ll be sleeping on your floor tonight,” said Rachel. “If we get any sleep tonight,” said Angelica. “At this rate—!”
“At this rate,” said Cloudius, “we ransack the bodies and get the heck out of here and hug later.”
In the event, Josh Hubble gave up a saving ring to Cloudius and a pair of strangely fashionable shades to Angelica; Emma’s contribution was a hair band of speed, for Tom, and a ring of magic attack, which Daphne picked up. “Even with this, she couldn’t handle you two,” she said to Cloudius and Rachel. “But I already have one. Tom, you don’t have one of these, do you?”
“No,” said Tom, “but Arnulf hardly has anything.”
“I’m all set,” said Arnulf, admiring the black sword. He swung it a few times, letting it sing through the air. He laughed. The others were ducking.
“But I thought you hated swords,” Angelica pointed out.
“Not this one,” said Arnulf, as Tom put on his new ring.
“Hey, cool shades,” said Rachel. “You look particularly great in those.”
Angelica took them off, then put them on again. “They make me look good?” The others had to admit it was true. “They do something else too—something to the light.”
“Let me see,” said Cloudius. Grudgingly, Angelica handed them to him. “Ultraviolet! You’re seeing ultraviolet shines off things. That’s, like, kinda useful down here.”
“Especially if I do this,” said Tom, waving his wand and saying gao kor. With a twist of the wand, the light darkened to black, except for what Cloudius saw.
“Whoa,” he said. He handed them back to Angelica. “As for the looking good thing,” he said, “you need them more than I do.”
“Ha,” said Arnulf.
“Whoa,” said Angelica. “Cool light. Now make that light of yours head back up.”
The six teenagers managed to follow the wide hallway up and up and up, undistracted by passing the other side of the room with the lying friendly voices and then a room full of stinky ghouls. Finally they were passing the old office where they had found the ruby, and then up a stair to the rooms right under the Egypt exhibit. This time the old Indian guard smiled in a fatherly way and indicated a different secret door—one which led into a rough passage that connected to a sewer which connected to a work tunnel which connected to an old Indian tunnel which ended in a little room with a man hole above. They climbed on a crate and had a look.
“Rok!” Daphne said in a low voice, poking her sword at it—her school wand was back in her room. By now, she only used her wand in class. “Hey, I might break it,” she would say whenever one of the others gave her grief.
The manhole popped up in the air, then came back down ajar. Daphne was saying “Shesh!” at it at the moment it landed, and there was absolutely no sound. “Hey, it worked,” she said. She pushed the cover off and they climbed out into a rainy winter night in Chicago.
There was the Birch Street Indian, pony tail and all. He smirked at them. They bowed their heads to him. “Who’s that?” Rachel asked Angelica.
“Don’t worry, he’s on our side,” said Angelica. “You’re coming back and sleeping on my floor, understood?”
“Yeah, I’d kinda hoped so,” said Rachel. They hurried across Birch Street and were soon in the back door of Ash House, only a little wet, only smelling a little like they’d been in the sewer.
Ash was sitting at the big dining table, reading by a wispy magic light. The house ghost was across from her also reading. They looked up warily.
Angelica walked over to stand beside Ash, their eyes locked together. Not looking down, Ange pulled something out of her pocket and set it down on the table. Everyone looked there except Angelica.
“My, my,” said Ash. “What have we here.”